‘Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite’ Is A World’s Finest Team Up Tale [Review]
It’s a testament to how well-made the video game Lego Batman 2: Superheroes Unite is that large chunks of the “story” scenes can be repurposed and matched with new material so seamlessly that it’s difficult to tell that any part of the new direct-to-DVD movie Lego Batman: The Movie — DC Superheroes Unite was ever intended for anything other than a slick computer-animated movie.
And it’s a testament to how well-made the movie is that it manages to avoid the major pitfall of most bigger-budget, higher-profile based-on-a-videogame movies — you know, your Mortal Kombats, your Tomb Raiders, your Resident Evils, your Doom or your (shudder) Super Mario Bros. That is, that it’s generally more fun to play a videogame then to watch someone else, even A-list Hollywood types like Angelina Jolie or The Rock, play it instead.It no doubt helps that the makers of the movie (and the game it’s an expansion of) were working with such fully-realized, readymade characters with personalities and inter-personal conflicts well-established via decades of comics and sundry multi-media adaptations and spin-offs, and aiming at a pretty tightly-focused audience. There’s no need to waste time introducing characters, explaining origins or dramatizing first meetings.
After a rather bravura (if long) credits sequence in which the “camera” slowly traces the insides of a gigantic bat symbol made of yellow and black Legos while Danny Elfman’s original Batman theme plays, we open at an Oscars-like Man of the Year Award ceremony, where billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne has just beaten billionaire industrialist (and presidential candidate!) Lex Luthor.
Before he can collect his award, however, it and everything else of value are stolen by The Joker and his gang of Batman rogues (The Riddler, The Penguin, Two-Face, Harley Quinn and Catwoman). One brawl and one high-speed vehicle chase later (there are a lot of vehicles in this), Batman has them all captured and stored in Arkham Asylum, while still having time to belittle Robin (here wearing the red and black costume Tim Drake was wearing just before he officially became Red Robin in the comics) and be a jerk to Superman, who has belatedly showed up to help (and brought his own movie theme music with him).
Enter Lex Luthor with his new invention, “The Deconstructor,” which is capable of pulling tiny little blocks apart — the perfect weapon for destroying a city made of ‘em and protected by a guy who rides around in an assortment of vehicles made out of ‘em. Luthor and The Joker team-up for a maybe over-complicated scheme to win the U.S. Presidential election via a giant mecha and modified Joker Gas, but whatever; it’s mainly an excuse for lots of chasing, fighting and gags.
Along the way the traditionally surly, prickly loner Batman must learn to accept help from the many friends ready to give it to him, from the somewhat hapless Robin to the more-arrogant-than-usual Superman to the entirety of the Justice Legos of America, who show up in time for the climax.
The title is perhaps a bit misleading, as this is very much an old-school World’s Finest-style team-up, with Batman and Superman (with Robin hanging around) joining forces to stop their likewise allied archenemies.
J’onn J’onnz makes an early cameo sitting in a monitor womb of a satellite headquarters, and again later to announce “Calling all Justice Leaguers!” as a kyrptonite-powered giant Joker-bot has Superman and Batman on the ropes. The Flash (first shown fighting a Lego Captain Boomerang), Green Lantern Hal Jordan (whose ring looks more like a big bracelet he holds in his fist, but whose power of building things out of green energy is a Lego-perfect power), Wonder Woman (in a transparent Lego jet) and Cyborg all show up to lend a hand for the final fight. They only get a few minutes of screen-time apiece, and precious few lines; Aquaman and the dozen or so other “unlockable” characters from the game are all no-shows. (Perhaps they’ll all get more exposure in the next installment of the game and/or movie-based-on-that-game, as there’s an ominous teaser ending featuring Brainiac.)
Likely owing to the amount of development that went into the game before the movie was even started, the setting is a particularly gorgeous one, and probably the best of the “movie” Gotham’s since those seen in the Tim Burton films or Batman: Mask of The Phantasm (which was, of course, a film spin-off of the the animated series, itself heavily influenced by the Burton films). The architecture is particularly rich (as one would expect from a movie based on a game based in part as a building toy, I suppose), the cityscape all dark and misty, full of Gothic highlights and agonized statues holding up buildings (these might look a little cooler if they weren’t giant, formless Lego men).
The voice-acting seems heavily informed by Batman: The Animated Series, even though none of the voice actors from the show re-appear here. Clancy Brown, who voiced Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series and in just about all of the more memorable animated appearances of the character since, plays Luthor. Troy Baker, who played Batman in Arkham City, reprises the role, and offers a take heavily informed by Kevin Conroy’s, just as Christopher Corey Smith’s Joker owes a lot to Mark Hamill’s take.
Beyond the setting and sounds, however, what Lego Batman shares with the late ’90s animated series is its tone — all-ages but serious, and meant to be taken seriously, except when it’s not, in which case it’s clear the film is asking viewers to laugh along with it (Usually, at Batman’s expense — or at least at the expense of his theatrically “dark” act). It’s surprising how difficult it is to get that light-hearted but dark-facaded balance just right, based on how rarely we get a Batman that can be played straight or as the butt of a joke, depending on the scene, but this movie nails it.
One scene has Batman dangling from a rope ladder and menaced by a shark ala Batman ’66, while another visually references the truck chase scene from The Dark Knight, and both work just fine.
The special features are kind of a grab-bag, including an episode of the Teen Titans cartoon, two episodes of Batman: The Brave and The Bold and the top five entries in a stop-motion Lego DC superheroes film-making contest, all of which lack the polish of the feature film (obviously) but make up for it in restoring the DIY pleasure of building an adventure with your own two hands… and several thousand little plastic bricks.